By Matthew C. Haislip, D.M.A.
In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, we musicians found ourselves facing months ahead with an end to practically all live performances. I was thankful to be able to continue to work by teaching my university classes and horn students in an online format, but so many other musicians were not as fortunate. It has been such a devastating time for so many, and my heart goes out to all of those who have been struggling.
I decided to make the most of the time I was afforded to seek to become a better musician and horn player. While I participated in creating some recordings of socially distant chamber music, I also knew that I needed a daily goal. As an everyday rule in the past, I have mainly focused my practice on fundamentals, different warm-up routines, upcoming repertoire, and a few favorite Kopprasch, Gallay, Kling, Bordogni, and Fearn etudes. I own stacks of other etude books, but I had not systematically worked through entire books at a time since my undergraduate days.
In the back of my mind, I knew that one day I needed to complete Maxime-Alphonse. I had spent a lot of time in book one, but I had never worked through the other books completely. I decided that this time of social distancing was the perfect opportunity for the entire set of 200 etudes. This undertaking proved to be the most rewarding time of practice that I have ever experienced on the horn. I perceive that I am an entirely different horn player, having worked through these books. My sight-reading skills are better, and I feel much more confident in approaching what I would consider to be nearly “impossible” literature. My aural awareness, articulation, sound, rhythm, dynamic control, and technical facility have all been sharpened by these studies.
Finishing all six books took nearly 20 weeks for me to complete from early spring through the summer. I marked each etude that I found to be especially challenging or helpful to return to later. I simultaneously worked on Bach Cello Suites, Bordogni vocal studies, stopped or F horn-only Kopprasch, and some Schantl exercises to balance out my practice. With the Bordogni, I played the treble clef version and transposed them to an upward key, a downward key, and down an octave. I learned the value of studying Bordogni in various octaves from my undergraduate teacher, Michael Morrow. Practicing Bordogni this way is an incredible endeavor for developing a lyrical refined approach on the horn, so it balanced out my practice well.
Depending on the standard one holds one’s self to, there are difficult etudes in each book of Maxime-Alphonse. These etudes have endless applications. The detail of articulation and dynamic markings alone provides opportunities for intense work on extremes. For me, the virtuosic etudes in books five and six had to be played slower than marked and broken down into one measure at a time. I chose not to play the numerous repeats marked in book six, and I made sure to take breaks often to avoid injury. Interestingly, I found that some of the studies in book six were no more impossible than studies in earlier books, but I would say that I got the most benefit out of the first five books.
I had a lot of fun practicing these studies. They are so well-written for our instrument. I would attribute the utility of Maxime-Alphonse etudes to their creative musical material, stylistic diversity, technical demands, and sudden shifts in register and dynamic. The delicate studies in book two, for example, are fantastic challenges for developing ultra-finesse. The content in these books tends to be less predictably repetitive than other etudes, so they keep the player on their toes. Attention to detail is key to successfully performing them. There are numerous stories of renowned horn teachers who have demanded strict care with the details in all aspects of these studies. Many virtuosos have pointed to their study of these etudes as contributive to their development.
The French tradition has produced so many similarly invaluable studies with rich musical content and practical applications for the horn. I plan on working through Barboteu’s etudes in the near future. There are several books of Gallay etudes that I would like to play through as well. Since finishing Maxime-Alphonse, I have completed both volumes of Müller’s 34 Studies and Belloli’s 8 Studies, and I am working through Kling’s 40 Studies. I have returned to Maxime-Alphonse to continue to refine the etudes I have marked for lifetime practice; a technique I picked up from my horn teacher Michael Morrow, who picked it up from his teacher Christopher Leuba, another advocate of Maxime-Alphonse. In 2021, all six books of Maxime-Alphonse will be in the public domain. I look forward to incorporating these wonderful books in my teaching. If you are seeking a rewarding challenge, I highly recommend working through our fantastic catalogue of etudes, especially Maxime-Alphonse!
Best wishes to everyone in this difficult time!
Matthew C. Haislip is a hornist, teacher, and composer currently serving as Assistant Professor of Horn at Mississippi State University. He is a founding member of Quintasonic Brass and has performed with such ensembles as the Cincinnati Opera, Opera Naples, and Omaha Symphony. His recent publication Dueling Fundamentals for Two Horns is published by Mountain Peak Music. Dr. Haislip holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, and Texas A&M University-Commerce. His website may be found at www.matthaislip.com.